All You Need to Know about K-pop Stars and Military Service

This post covers everything you want to know about K-pop stars and military enlistment in Korea.

It covers upcoming military service for idols, including the soon to be enlisted members of BTS.

Lingua Asia All You Need to Know about K-pop Stars and Military Service

Quick Summary

  • K-pop idols have to serve the same amount of time as everyone else.
  • The period of service is 18 to 21 months depending on military branch.
  • Since July 2020, enlisted soldiers can use their phones, usually from 6pm-9pm on weekdays and 8am-9pm on weekends, except for the first training camp for recruits (training period: 3 weeks for service worker; 5 weeks for army, air force; 6 weeks for navy; and 7 weeks for marines).

Military service is the last line of equality in Korea.

Every man enlists in the military, even celebrities including K-pop stars. (Regardless if they contribute 3.5 billion dollars to the economy)

This is because South Korea’s still technically at war with the North. Also, it gives Korean guys something to talk about when they’re drinking.

It’s common for family members to send gifts and letters to men serving in the military. They also see them off on the first day. Sisters will bring their oppa things like moisturizer and snacks to share with others and wish them good luck.

How long is Korean military service for idols?

K-pop idols have to serve the same amount of time as everyone else. The period of service according to military branch are:

  • Army & Marine Corps: 18 months
  • Navy: 20 months
  • Air Force: 21 months

Before base assignment, soldiers in active service receive training for 5 weeks at an Army Training Center, while supplementary service members (social service, industrial service, professional research), conscripted policemen, and conscripted firefighters train for 4 weeks.

Will BTS join the military?

Probably. But unlike with other K-pop stars, more Koreans hope BTS won’t have to serve in the military or at least postpone their mandatory service since BTS boosted national prestige by being No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 three times in a year.

**Update** Yes, they’re joining the military. Many politicians were working on special exemption legislation for them, but BTS will enlist, starting with Jin, the oldest member. As of June 12, 2024, Jin finished his military service!

Will BTS disband after military service?

Fear not. BTS made their debut on June 13th, 2013 and signed a 7-year renewal contract on June 13th, 2020. So, they probably won’t disband at least until 2027.

But if the members enlist one after another and expand solo activities, they’ll have a long period of inactivity as a group, just like other K-pop groups.

BTS will most likely come back as a team in 2025!

Which K-pop idols are enlisting in 2020?

  • BtoB’s Yook Sung-jae
  • BtoB’s Im Hyun-sik
  • WINNER’s Kim Jin-woo and Lee Seung-hoon
  • Pentagon’s Jinho
  • EXO’s Suho
  • F.T. Island’s Song Seung-hyun

How can Koreans avoid military service?

There are a few ways. Some of my cousins and friends got military exemption for being too skinny (this condition is not applicable anymore) or being obese. Military exemption conditions are:

  1. Low income
    About 2,000 people apply for this condition every year.
    You’ll be eligible for exemption if monthly income based on a 4 person household is less than 1.66 million KRW and total assets are less than 56 million KRW.
  1. People with disabilities
    If you’re registered as a disabled person, no notice of enlistment will be sent.
  1. Gold medalists
    This is applicable if you’ve won a gold medal in the Asian Games or Olympics.
  1. Having a disease such as knee (cruciate) ligament rupture
    If you have a disease that can be cured, you will receive Level 7 (re-examination subject) and have to get examined again after treatment.

    Although examination is based on vision with glasses, if the vision of one eye is lower than 0.6, you can serve in the military as a public service worker (공익요원). But if it’s lower than 0.1 or 0.2, you’ll receive Level 5.

    Having a cruciate ligament rupture doesn’t automatically disqualify you, but getting reconstruction surgery increases the probability. Since there are many cases of intentional ruptures, they’re currently being strictly screened.
  1. Transgender
    If you’re a transgender from male to female, you’ll get an exemption.
  1. Physical condition
    There aren’t many exemption cases under this condition anymore.
    Men shorter than 140cm will get Level 6 and be exempt from military enlistment. Also, if BMI is more than 33, they’ll be considered obsese and receive Level 4 to serve as public service workers.
  1. Orphans
    For those whose parents died before the age of 13, who have no family and lived for more than 5 years in an orphanage or child protection facility, they may get military exemption.
  2. Others
    Prison: A person who served in prison for at least 1 year and 6 months will get exemption.
    Naturalized citizen: A person who obtained Korean nationality (except dual citizenship)

What happens if you don’t do military service in South Korea?

Case 1: Steve Yoo (Yoo Seung-jun)

Steve Yoo was a mega star singer in the late 1990’s. Although he was Korean-American, Steve Yoo used to say that he’d serve in the military, but suddenly renounced his Korean nationality before enlisting.

So, his entry into Korea was prohibited in accordance with Article 11 of Immigration Control Law. More trials are required for his visa application and entry even now, 15 years later. Koreans will never forgive him, and they call him by his English name now.

Case 2: MC Mong

Another huge star in the mid 2000’s who was also a TV personality. He was exempted from military service in 2010 by intentionally removing 12 teeth. The Supreme Court ruled him innocent for violating Military Service Law, and only charged him for obstructing the execution of government affairs in 2012.

However, Koreans are still not forgiving him. He tried to come back, but his face was blurred as a mosaic due to negative public opinion.

K-pop stars serving military

Since then, some K-pop stars are getting even more popular by serving in the military. Hyun Bin, Oh Jong-hyuk, Yoon Shi-yoon, AKMU’s Lee Chan-hyuk, and SHINee Minho joined the Marine Corps voluntarily. EXO’s D.O enlisted at the age of 26, even though he could’ve postponed it.

More about Korean special forces

Recently, K-pop idols rarely have issues related to the military because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Do Korean soldiers get days off?

Yes, Korean soldiers get annual leave as follows:

  • Army & Marine Corps: 24 days
  • Navy: 27 days
  • Air Force: 28 days

On top of annual leave, they get reward and consolation vacation, meaning they get to leave base for a few days.

Which military duty is considered easy in Korea?

KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to the United States Army) is definitely considered the best in Korea, but you have to be extremely lucky since it’s decided by lottery. Also, solders who work as drivers or medics are considered to have a relatively easy time.

For K-pop idols: The military authorities abolished the celebrity soldier system in 2013, but they’re still running the same system under a different name as “musical soldiers”.

When a famous celebrity enlists, he’ll usually be assigned to a military band. Then, dispatched to a musical venue through audition.

That way they can maximize their talents.

Did we miss anything?

Serving in the military is not easy, but necessary in Korea.

I hope you enjoyed this article.

Ask us what you want to know about military service in the comments!

62 thoughts on “All You Need to Know about K-pop Stars and Military Service”

  1. Hello,
    how do groups perform when some members are in military? I know that many groups still do concerts. So do they play missing members’ parts on playback? Or how does it work? Thank you so much for an answer.
    Have a nice day

    • Hello Kai,
      That’s a great question!
      I think it’s up to the group.
      Some K-pop idols play missing members’ parts on playback, and some cover/sing the parts between present members.
      In terms of dance moves, they change the choreography positions to match the number of members.
      I hope this helped!

    • Hello, thank you for asking!
      SEVENTEEN’s S.COUPS has a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and he’ll most likely be exempt from enlistment.
      I knew a sunbae who suffered an ACL injury in the army, and he was even discharged in the middle of his military duty because of it.

  2. Hey it’s me again !
    I heard suga will serve as alternative ( public officer) . What are the differences between a soldier and a public officer other than 21 months of working period? What are the jobs he needs to do? Some people said he can grow his hair. is that true? Will he be in public most of the time ?

    (I’m sorry for asking so many question. I’m curious. heh)

    • Hi Vini,
      No problem! 🙂
      Yes, Suga will serve starting on September 22nd.
      1. After receiving basic military training, a soldier will go to a military base, whereas a public service worker will serve in public institutions.
      2. The jobs will depend on where he’s assigned to. Public service workers serve at national agencies, local governments, public organizations, or social welfare facilities.
      3. Yes, he can grow his hair since there is no haircut regulation for them, as long as their hairstyle is neat.
      4. Yes, public service workers serve in public institutions in contact with civilians, so Big Hit Music asked fans to “refrain from visiting his workplace during alternative service period.”

  3. sorry it’s not related to this

    what does dang-shing means in Korean? I heard it’s “you” but can’t be used to address everyone. I don’t understand that.
    Is it weird to call your close friend “dang-shin”

  4. hi !

    I heard bts Taehyung will be heading to Nonsan Training Center on the 11th. He has applied to the Army Capital Defense Command’s special mission unit.

    what does this mean? will the training be different? what does it mean by he applied to the special unit? is this nonsan training center a famous and good one?

    • Hi Rita,
      Yes, V will go to Nonsan Training Center on December 11th.
      After the basic military training, people get deployed to their own units.
      Taehyung preemptively applied to SDT (Special Duty Team) under Capital Defense Command, which is a counter-terrorism and military police unit.
      SDT performs counter-terrorism operations, security of key personnel, arrest of armed deserters, and general disaster relief missions.
      So, Taehyung will receive intense training even after finishing his basic training and joining SDT, such as physical training, combat, counter-terrorism tactics, demolition, sniper training, and rappelling.
      Finally, Nonsan Training Center is the biggest one in South Korea.

  5. did he went through an exam to be selected to the sdt? do they get the same vacation period as other normal soldiers? are there any other idols that u know who applied to sdt before? where is the sdt camp located?(so sorry for asking many questions)

  6. did V went through an exam to be selected to the sdt? do they get the same vacation period as other normal soldiers? are there any other idols that u know who applied to sdt before? where is the sdt camp located?(so sorry for asking many questions)

    • Hello again, Rita,
      V probably finished taking the exam as the final screening result was announced in October, with enlistment scheduled for December 11.
      I’m not sure about the vacation period, but I think it will be the same.
      Park Hyung-Sik joined and completed his military duty with SDT.
      The base is located in Seoul.
      I hope this answers all your questions.


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